- 1 For an account regarding the role of Yemenis within the Indian Ocean world, see Freitag & Clarence-(...)
- 2 The standard scholarships within the Indian Ocean Studies divide Arabs from Yemen into two i.e. Yem (...)
- 3 Although this article focus on the first part of the 20th century, the migration of Yemenis to Ethi (...)
1For a long period of time Arab migrants from Yemen have played a major and a decisive role in the countries surrounding the Indian Ocean1. In recent years some studies have documented the social adaptation of Yemenis in East Africa (Bang 2003; Le Gunnec-Coppens 1989; Manger 2006; Rouaud 1997). Yet only few has shown as to how Yemenis2 have interacted and existed within a state administrative set ups. Given this gap, in this article, my first concern is to describe the interactions of Yemenis within the administrative and bureaucratic structure of the state by taking the case of Yemeni migrants to Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, in the first part of the 20th century3. Second, in this article, on the bases of family history and documents obtained from Arab families I will describe the history of notable Yemeni families who were residing in Addis Ababa. Thirdly, I would forward a methodological criticism on the way foreigners have been studied in Ethiopian historiography. Based on the discussion and findings of the research I would argue that Ethiopian historiography has concealed the history of Arabs as a result of following a conventional historical methodology that rely on source materials written by western travelers. I will conclude by asserting that the collection of family history and documents held in the hand of diaspora families are important sources for obtaining information regarding the history of diasporic groups who might otherwise be under represented in the historiography of foreigners.
2Founded in 1987 by Emperor Menelik II, Addis Ababa, which is the setting for the present study, was from its foundation inhabited by scores of people who were not native to the country. Visiting the city in early 20th century, Paul Merab, the personal physician of Emperor Menelik II, tell us that out of the 60,000 inhabitants 1,905 were foreigners coming from various parts of the world. Among its residents the capital then counted 334 Greeks, 227 Arabs, 149 Indians, 146 Armenians, 63 French, 42 Italians, 20 Germans, 13 Hungarians, 15 Turks, 13 Swedes, 13 English, 11 Egyptians, 10 Syrians and Lebanese, 8 Afganis, 7 Portugese, 6 Russians and Bulgarians, 6 Cawkas, 5 Americans, 3 Australians, 2 Belgians and 1 Georgian (Merab 1922: 104).
3With its wide-ranging citizens, then, Addis Ababa, which means new flower, was the first permanent city of Ethiopia during the modern period. Prior to its formation, Ethiopian cities, with the exception of two historical periods, were not permanent cities. They were shifting cities or as Horvath (1969) call them “roaming capitals” whose existence were linked with the movement of the Emperor. The trend was for the Emperor to reside in one place until the surrounding resources were not able to support his troops and the people linked to his court. Once the Emperor moved from the area, the place would cease to function as capital of the country as the function will be taken over by the new abode of the Emperor (ibid.).
4Although stable and hence different from the roaming capitals, Addis Ababa, however, was not different from the previous capitals in terms of internal organization. As in the previous cities the heart of the new flower, so to say, was organized around the Emperor court and its compound, the Gəbbi. The Emperor quarter was surrounded by the camps of his military chiefs which were referred as Säfär; and were distinguished from each other by mentioning the names of the chief who were in the area. A Säfär, however, was not only composed or defined through the presence of military personals. It was also brought to life through the settlement of various functionaries, which were attached to the imperial house or to the various chiefs. Along with the chief’s Säfär, Addis Ababa was therefore dotted with Säfärs which enclosed workers, military personals, etc. bearing as their name the tasks of their dwellers. Besides military personnel and servicemen, a Säfär was also designated after an ethnic group who occupy a similar area. Following the same principles, these ethnic based neighborhoods were named after the occupying ethnic group resulting in the coinage of terms such as Wärəǧi säfär (neighborhood of the wärəǧi), Aräb Säfär (Arab neighborhood), etc. (Baheru 2005: 124-125).
5Beside the Gəbbi, the other main node of the city was the market center which was referred as Arada. This center was located south of the imperial quarter around a newly built church, the Saint George Cathedral, and acted as an economic and social hub. In the market, trade was conducted through barter or by using a bar of salt, ’Ämole, which served as a traditional currency in Ethiopia. The Tägärä Bərə, a currency that was issued under the name of Empress Maria Theresia of Austria was also used in the circulation of goods until it was substituted by the first modern Ethiopian currency (Zewdu 1995).
- 4 Compagnie de Chemin de Fer franco-éthiopien de Jibuti à Addis Abeba was a firm which finished the c (...)
6As a capital of the country, Addis Ababa was linked with various parts of the nation and was part of regional trade routes which crisscrossed Ethiopia. The trade routes passing through Addis Ababa were connected with the major port towns in the Eastern coast of Africa and served as a channel for transmitting both commodities and people in and out of the city. More specifically, through the trade routes, Addis Ababa was linked to the port of Massawa located in the northwest direction. The city was also linked eastwards to the port of Zeila by a trade route which passed through the old city of Hārer. Latter on, following the construction of a railway line from Djibouti to Addis Ababa by Compagnie de Chemin de Fer franco-éthiopien de Jibuti à Addis Abeba4 the city became connected to the port of Djibouti.
7The East African ports in turn, connected the city to the wider trade emporiums in the Indian Ocean. In the early part of the 20th century, this meant ports like Aden, Jeddah and Mumbai (Bombay). The connection also meant wider linkages with Empires and colonial powers dominating the Indian Ocean world. At the turn of the century, despite its modest status, Addis Ababa was therefore a major city and a point of destination which was embedded within an Indian Ocean world system. From the city, various commodities, including slaves were exported to destinations such as Aden and Mumbai. In return, ranges of manufactured goods were brought to the city from the various corners of the Indian Ocean and beyond.
8The trade routes, the railway line and the ports that connected Addis Ababa to the Indian Ocean world, however, were not only means of exchanging commodities. Along with the merchandises various foreign groups settled in the city. One of these foreign groups was the Yemenis whose presence I will try to document in this article. At the turn of 20th century, the people who are now referred as Yemenis were not however Yemenis in official terms. Known as Arabian felik, in ancient times, their homeland was, at the start of the 20th century, divided into two parts and was under the control of two contending powers. The northern half of the country was ruled for a period by the Ottoman Empire until it came under the effective rule of Imām Yahyā (1904-1948) and later on his son ’Ahmad (1948-1962) (Halliday 1974: 81-122). On the other hand, the southern part was put under the influence of the British Empire who first anchored themselves in Aden in 1838 to secure access to a safe coaling station (Gavin 1975). The British presence in Aden, however, was not effectively extended to the interior and two Sultanates, Qu’aiti and Kathῑrῑ, of the Hadramout region were mostly left alone until they came under British protection in 1937 (Freitag 2003: 404-415).
- 5 Informant: ‘Abd al-Hāmīd Shaykh Sa’īd Bā Zar’a (Addis Ababa, August 11, 2007). He is the son of Sha (...)
9Traveling to Addis Ababa at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century the Yemenis therefore did not came to Ethiopia as Yemeni citizens. They came under a citizenship other than Yemen. They were British subjects, subjects of the Imām or that of the Sultanate of Qu’aiti and Kathīrī. Entering Addis Ababa in the early stage of its development the Yemenis however, were received and considered as an Arab and a foreigner or in Amharic yäwəč agär zegočə. This classification categorized the Yemenis along with all other foreigners, which, as the list of Paul Merab (1922) indicates includes people from twenty three countries. Nevertheless, at the initial stage, this label did not have any legal bearing. Almost for the first decade of their migration Yemenis moved in and out of the country indiscriminately without being put into any formal legal category. In other words, in the late 19th and early 20th century, Yemenis along with other foreigners, traveled to Addis Ababa undeterred by a formal system of control. They came mainly through the ports of Massawa and Zeila and went inland via the existing caravan trade routes. Once the railway line that run from Djibouti to Addis Ababa was finished, Yemenis, switched from Zeila to Djibouti and started to enter the country from this point5.
- 6 Informant: ‘Abd al-Hāmīd Shaykh Sa’īd Bā Zar’a (Addis Ababa, August 11, 2007).
- 7 As I have not myself looked at the Foreign Office Records this information was obtained from the wo (...)
10In the early years, their stay in Addis Ababa was also uncomplicated. Yemenis lived and traded freely until a decree regulating the entry and settlement of foreigners was issued by Emperor Menelik II on May 16, 1913. The decree, which was the first of its kind in Ethiopia, gave a one year ultimatum to foreigners to register themselves to their respective legations. Those who didn’t have a legation were asked to register themselves as Ethiopian citizen within a three month period. Those who failed to register in either of the mentioned system were asked to return to their country of origin (Paulos 1996). The British being the major administrator of Aden Yemenis from the southern part of Yemen registered themselves under the British legation6. On the other hand Yemenis from the north become the “protégé” of the Ethiopian foreign Ministry (Merab 1922: 492). Although full archival research is yet to be undertaken to determine the number of Yemenis in Ethiopia at the time, the record of the British Foreign Office tell us that in the middle of the 1920s Yemenis ranging from 700 up to 800 were registered under the British legation in Addis Ababa7.
- 8 Informants: ‘Abd al-Hāmīd Shaykh Sa’īd Bā Zar’a (Addis Ababa, September 1, 2007); Mustafā (Addis Ab (...)
11Since the 1913 declaration, their movement in and out of the country also changed from that of free access to a controlled system. Yemenis were increasingly required to have a special pass which was used for traveling on the railway. Issued from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and lasting for a period of one year, these rail passes were issued for all foreigners who frequently traveled from Addis Ababa to Djibouti. In addition to traveling, bringing relatives and staying out of the country for an extended period of time also came to require a special permit from the Ministry of Foreigner Affairs or later from the Ministry of Interior. Yemenis who stayed more than six months outside the country were also required to ask for an extension or apply in advance for staying outside the country8.
- 9 Hussein (1997) basing himself on a thesis produced at Addis Ababa University assert that ‘Abd al-Ra (...)
- 10 Shaykh Sa’īd Ahmad Bā Zar’a to Ministry of Interior, Typescript, March 13, 1955, Addis Ababa.
- 11 Informant: ‘Abd al-Hāmīd Shaykh Sa’īd Bā Zar’a (Addis Ababa, September 1, 2007).
12A case in point that shows the development that occurred since 1913 are the permits and correspondences of Shaykh Sa’īd Ahmad Bā Zar’a who was a leading Yemeni trader in Addis Ababa. Shaykh Sa’īd Ahmad Bā Zar’a came to Ethiopia in the last part of the 19th century and is said to be among one of the first migrants from Hadramout9. In a letter he wrote in 1955 Shaykh Sa’īd Ahmad Bā Zar’a stated that he had been in Addis Ababa for fifty two years. If one subtracts these fifty two years, assuming that the years are correct, from the date the letter is written Shaykh Sa’īd Ahmad Bā Zar’a was in Addis Ababa as early as 190310. Shaykh Sa’īd Ahmad Bā Zar’a arrived via the trade route from Zeila together with his four brothers and eventually established himself as a trader in Arada. According to his son Abd al-Hāmīd who was among the first generation of migrants, Shaykh Sa’īd Ahmad Bā Zar’a movement and settlement within the country was not hindered by any bureaucratic obstacles. Along with other Yemenis Shaykh Sa’īd Ahmad Bā Zar’a was allowed to enter the city and establish a business for himself without being asked about his origin or national affiliation. This state of affair, however, changed for Shaykh Sa’īd Ahmad Bā Zar’a and his brothers since the 1913 declaration. By the middle part of the 20thcentury Shaykh Sa’īd Ahmad Bā Zar’a needed to have all sort of permit related from the relevant authorities11.
13One request for residency from Shaykh Sa’īd Ahmad Bā Zar’a has been kept by his family who are still residing in Addis Ababa. Written in a headed paper which bears his company name, the correspondence was addressed to the permit issuing ministry which at the time was the Ministry of Interior. In this communiqué, Shaykh Sa’īd Ahmad Bā Zar’a stated that he had been in the country for fifty two years and that his family and properties are in Ethiopia. After mentioning the condition of his children Shaykh Sa’īd Ahmad Bā Zar’a commented on his failing health and the recommendation of his doctor to go and stay in a hot country. To be able to do so he requested an extension of one year from that usually given to him. He put his request by saying:
- 12 Shaykh Sa’īd Ahmad Bā Zar’a to Ministry of Interior, Typescript, March 13, 1955, Addis Ababa.
“[…] käzihə qädämə länə ’änədə ’ämätə fäqadə näbärə yamis’ätäñə ahune gənə ’ädəmeye bəzu bämähonu bäšətayemə bəzy bämähonu häkimə fərofesärə rozäti yämibaläwu muqätə ’ägärə ’änədə ’ämätə mäqoyätə yasəfäləgalə səlaläñə kəburə fəqadəwo hono häkimu ’ənedazäzäñə ’änədə ’ämätə qoyəč e ’ənedəmäta bämakəbärə fəqadə ’əlämənalähu […].”
“[…] Previously, in my case, I was granted a one year permit. But now because I am too old and because my illnesses are too many the Doctor by the name of Professor Rozati has told me that I should spend one year in a hot country. If it is the willingness of your honor, I would like to beg you for a permit of one year so that I can go and stay for one year as the doctor has recommended […]”12.
- 13 Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affair to Shaykh Sa’īd Ahmad Bā Zar’a, Passing Permit for Foreigners (...)
- 14 Ethiopian Police to Shaykh Sa’īd Ahmad Bā Zar’a, Movement Permit Pass.
14By the middle of the 20th century, Shaykh Sa’īd Ahmad Bā Zar’a therefore required a permission to enter the country from the bureaucratic machinery that was not yet set up by the time of his arrival. While in Addis Ababa, Shaykh Sa’īd Ahmad Bā Zar’a was also issued a special pass that allowed him to travel from Addis Ababa to Djibouti via the newly established rail line. Headed as, “The Ethiopian Government Ministry of Foreign Affair” the permit carried a lengthy subtitle which read as “Passing Permit for Foreigners who Travel Frequently from Addis Ababa to Djibouti for Trade or other Purposes using Rail Road”. The document was issued on July 27, 1928 by Bəlaten Geta Heruyə Wolədəsəlase and was valid for a period of one year. In the permit Shaykh Sa’īd Ahmad Bā Zar’a was referred as being a trader resident in Addis Ababa. His country of origin was referred as “Duan Arab Country”. Moreover, under an entry that says “The legation or consulate which bears witness” the British legation was put as being the one responsible for Shaykh Sa’īd Ahmad Bā Zar’a13. In addition to this document, Shaykh Sa’īd Bā Zar’a was also required to carry a movement control permit which was issued for him by the Ethiopian police14.
15Needless to say, Shaykh Sa’īd Bā Zar’a was not the only Yemeni required to carry these passes. A number of Yemeni families that I have interviewed in Addis Ababa have a collection of these passes which are used as links to the past. In the post 1913 period, Shaykh Sa’īd Ahmad Bā Zar’a and other Yemenis like him, were therefore men bearing all the legal forms that came with modernization and the bureaucratization of the Ethiopian Empire. They were correct men holding the required passes and a “proper” citizens who had been placed under the protection of the British legation. Their “correctness” is not only limited to that. They were also residents who had to ask for permission to leave an area that was increasingly being demarcated. In another words, the Yemenis were transformed into a disciplined group under effective state surveillance.
- 15 The master plan that divided the city was formulated by Valle and Gudi in 1937 and was based by an (...)
16In 1935, the “surveillance” and movement of Yemenis in the city of Addis Ababa and Ethiopia took another turn. The year heralded a period of Italian occupation of Addis Ababa and Ethiopia which lasted for five years. Among other things, the Italian colonial power put up a new urban plan for Addis Ababa and envisioned to make it the capital of East African Italian colony. Reflecting a fascist ideology, the Italians envisioned to divide the city into two parts. The first half of the city which centered on the Arada, was made to be reserved for the Italian officials and other white Europeans. The white only area also included the Gəbbi that at the time of the occupation started to serve as headquarter of the fascist government. As compared to the only white area, the Italian colonial powers designated a new market place for the native which by implication meant all non Europeans. Referred to as Merkato Indigino this area was envisioned to be a place where not only natives but all people categorized as racially inferior such as Arabs and Indians would be placed15.
- 16 It should be noted that this is not typical of Addis Ababa. In major Ethiopian cities Yemenis were (...)
17For Yemenis who settled in Addis Ababa, the new boundary, which was marked by a color bar, meant a new dynamics. Like most indigenous people, Yemenis residing in the pre Italian period were mainly stationed in Arada as their livelihood revolved around trade. With the introduction of the “colonial system” they were however turned into an Indigino (Italian for native) who are of lesser category because of their skin color. As a result, along with the native people, the Yemenis were asked to relocate themselves to the indigenous quarters as the market moved from the old Arada to the new colonially built Merkato16. With the implementation of this racially motivated spacial movement Yemenis became not only, foreigners i.e yäwəč agär zegočə, or member of a certain legation. In addition to all this, they were Indiginos who were considered inferior by the white Italians that came to colonize the country. Thus, as their nationality had been an issue in previous time, by the 1930s their color became the most important criteria for their existence in Addis Ababa.
- 17 Informants: ‘Abd al-Hāmīd Shaykh Sa’īd Bā Zar’a (Addis Ababa, September 17, 2007); Mustefa (Addis A (...)
18In addition, the Italian colonial occupation also had a bearing on the actual migration of Yemenis to Addis Ababa. On the eve of the Italian occupation, fearing the disastrous effect of war, many Yemenis who were in Addis Ababa moved out of the city and went back to their country of origin and places like Aden. One trader who experienced the new dynamics was Shaykh Sa’īd Ahmad Bā Zar’a. During the pre Italian years of Addis Ababa Shaykh Sa’īd Ahmad Bā Zar’a was stationed in Arada and was mainly engaged in buying and exporting of hides and skin17.
- 18 Informant: ‘Abd al-Hāmīd Shaykh Sa’īd Bā Zar’a (Addis Ababa, September 18, 2007).
- 19 His son is my key informant i.e. ‘Abd al-Hāmīd Shaykh Sa’īd Ahmad Bā Zar’a.
- 20 Passport of ‘Abd al-Hāmīd Shaykh Sa’īd Bā Zar’a, April 3, 1937, Mukalla.
- 21 Passport of the State of Sheher and Mukalla, 3 April, 1937.
19In the eve of the occupation, Shaykh Sa’īd Ahmad Bā Zar’a, however, went back to his home country and returned when the Italians effectively controlled the city. Once in Ethiopia, a free pass that enabled him to travel to other parts of the country was issued for him by the colonial administration18. In this period, his son19 who left with him during the eve of the occupation returned to Addis Ababa by identifying himself a Qu’aiti subject. Issued in 1937, his passport was entitled as “Passport of the State of Sheher and Mukalla (Arabia)”. The passport was valid for two years and was issued on 3, April 1937. It categorizes the holder Abd al-Hāmīd Shaykh Sa’īd Ahmad Bā Zar’a as being born in Addis Ababa but resident of the country of Reshid in South Yemen. Identified by a respected person, Shaykh Salim Ahmad Bā Zar’a of Mukalla, who also happened to be his uncle, ‘Abd al-Hāmīd in this pass was identified as a Qu’aiti subject and was granted a permit to proceed from Mukalla to Addis Ababa via Aden20. In Addis Ababa, the British legation being closed as a result of the war, ‘Abd al-Hāmīd was not a subject protected by the British legation but a Qu’aiti subject who is in the official context an Indigino Qu’aiti subject who was born in Addis Ababa21.
- 22 Informant: ‘Abd al-Hāmīd Shaykh Sa’īd Bā Zar’a (Addis Ababa, September 18, 2007).
- 23 According to Pankhurst (1981: 36). The Italian recruited 10,500 Yemenis and Sudanese for their road (...)
- 24 Informants: ‘Abd al-Hāmīd Shaykh Sa’īd Bā Zar’a (Addis Ababa, September 18, 2007); ‘Abd al-Rahmān a (...)
20In the years after the first occupation, however, the Italian presence in Ethiopia meant an increase in the number of Yemenis in Ethiopia including Addis Ababa22. The major reason for this was the extensive construction project that was undertaken by the colonial government. Within the five years period the Italians built 4,421 kilometers of road and 8,334 bridges by spending 2,967,300,000 lira. The laborers for the construction were recruited both from the indigenous population and foreigners. In this context Yemenis arrived in great numbers as part of the foreign laborers23. The opening of the interior that followed these road constructions also meant new migration patterns. Yemenis from the Italian controlled port of Massawa moved into the inner part of Ethiopia including Addis Ababa24.
21After the colonial era, Yemenis were placed again under Ethiopian imperial administration which was reestablished after the victory of the Ethiopian patriotic forces and the British army who were involved in ending the Italian occupation. Now aged 90 ‘Abd al-Hāmīd the son of Shaykh Sa’īd Ahmad Bā Zar’a recall the reestablishment of the imperial administration vividly: “I was standing in front of this door. I was a little boy. Passers-buy who knew my father came and kissed me saying your father has met Emperor Haile-Sellassie. They were very happy.”
22This event, which was recorded in the national Arabic news paper Al-’Alam mention that the Yemeni communities were among those who went out to greet the Emperor during a celebration to mark his return from exile. In an issue which was dated as May 6, 1942 Shaykh Sa’īd Ahmad Bā Zar’a along with his fellow Hadrami Ahmad al-Mihdār, Bā Hārūn, Aqil and Bāubaysh greeted the Emperor. From Northern Yemen people like Alī Mahmūd al-Nusayrī, ‘Abd al-Hādī, ‘Abd al-Qawiyy al-Khurbāsh were present during the ceremony25.
- 26 Yemenis were involved as soldiers during in the British army that came to liberate Ethiopia. The Br (...)
- 27 Informant: ‘Abdallāh Imad (Addis Ababa, August 1, 2007).
23Besides the ceremony, for the Yemenis, the return of the Ethiopian regime meant the removal of the Italian color bar. It also entailed a new influx of migrants who came to the country following the establishment of peace or linked with the British army who along with Ethiopian forces were liberating the country26. Now as before, the movements of the Yemenis were controlled by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who was responsible for issuing permits for staying in the country or bringing relatives from abroad. In the post Italian period Yemenis appeared as British subjects holding British passports and being linked to the British Embassy in Addis Ababa27.
- 28 Identification card of Shifa Shaykh Sa’īd Bā Zar’a, Typescript, Addis Ababa, 21 March 1962.
24Despite their links to the British some Yemenis, however, decided to become Ethiopian. Among those who become Ethiopian was the daughter of Shaykh Sa’īd Ahmad Bā Zar’a, Shifa Shaykh Sa’īd Ahmad Bā Zar’a. Shifa applied to become a citizen of the Ethiopian Empire on April 20, 1960. She was granted citizenship by the Ethiopian Imperial government Ministry of Foreign Affairs on March 21, 1962. To attest this, Shifa was given an Ethiopian citizenship identification card which was signed by Vice Minister Kebede Gebre Welde. The pass which mentions Shifa’s application asserted that the Ministry witness that Shifa was written in the Ethiopian Nationality Journal number 16 on page 70,03728.
- 29 Identification card and passport of Ahmad Imad (original document is with ‘Abdallāh Imad son of Ahm (...)
25Those who became citizen, however, were not only individuals like Shifa whose parents have been, by this time, a long-term dwellers of Addis Ababa. New comers who had arrived later also became Ethiopian citizens. One example in this regard is Ahmad Imad Al Din who came from northern Yemen in the 1940s. Like Shifa, Ahmad applied for an Ethiopian citizenship and was given the accompanying citizenship identification card which was duly signed by the ministre d’État Doctor Tesfaye Gebrezgi. Subsequently, Ahmed was also given an Ethiopian passport29.
- 30 This article is not meant to be a complete account of all important Yemeni families in Addis Ababa. (...)
- 31 Information regarding Shaykh Sa’īd Bā Zar’a is obtained from ‘Abd al-Hāmīd Shaykh Sa’īd Bā Zar’a an (...)
26Despite the bureaucratic set ups, a number of Yemeni families managed to establish themselves as prominent personalities during the first part of the 20th century. Bellow I will try to recount the history of some of the families30. As I have mentioned above one of the early arrivals were the Bā Zar’a family. Let me start with their story which is marked by prominence and success. Members of this family who are still residing in Addis Ababa assert that Shaykh Sa’īd Ahmad Bā Zar’a came through the port of Zaila31. As most migrants of the time, Shaykh Sa’īd Ahmad Bā Zar’a settled briefly around the city of Hārer and moved on to Addis Ababa following the trade route that link the city to the eastern region. During the initial period of his stay in Addis Ababa Shaykh Sa’īd Ahmad Bā Zar’a, by basing himself in Arada market was engaged mainly in the collecting of hides and skin. Most of his business was undertaken by hiring local people who would collect the hides through barter.
- 32 Like Shaykh Sa’īd Bā Zar’a, as we are going to see subsequently many Yemenis were engaged in the se (...)
- 33 Apart from the oral information supplied by Yemeni community one source that proves and indicate th (...)
27The modest business that he started through the sale of hide and skin was later on diversified into importing and exporting wide range of commodities32. During the growing phase of his business Shaykh Sa’īd Ahmad Bā Zar’a business was undertaken and controlled mainly by his brothers who followed his foot steps to Addis Ababa. In the first part of the century Shaykh Sa’īd Ahmad Bā Zar’a, along with his brothers was able to establish a trading houses in the town of ǧəmma, ə material; Asmara, the present day capital of Eritrea which was a key center for the trade that goes through the port of Massewa; as well as the port of Djibouti. He mainly exported hide and skins, and various spices to the ports of Aden, Jeddah, Bombay and Mombasa. The Bā Zar’a were also engaged modestly in the selling of slaves33.
- 34 Informant: ‘Abd al-Hāmīd Shaykh Sa’īd Bā Zar’a (September 1, 2007).
- 35 The fact that Shaykh Salīm Bā Zar’a was Emperor Haile Sellasie financial manager is hardily surpris (...)
- 36 Tädäsä Mäšäša (Emperor Haile-Sellassie Secretary), Testimony, Hand written, Addis Ababa, December 5(...)
28By virtue of their trade the Bā Zar’a became one of the richest and most prominent Yemeni families in early day of Addis Ababa and they were leaders of their community. In the first part of the 20th century the Bā Zar’a were especially linked with the royal court of Ethiopia. Shaykh Sa’īd Ahmad Bā Zar’a was said to be in touch with Emperor Menelik II. Shaykh Sa’īd Ahmad Bā Zar’a was also given a free land in the town of ǧəmma by ǧəmma abba ǧifarə, who at the time was the King of the area, for the service that he has provided to his court34. His brother, Shaykh Salīm Bā Zar’a who was one of his business partners also acted as the financial manager of Emperor Haile-Sellassie35. Sheik Salīm Bā Zar’a was entrusted with the Emperor’s money for up keeping on several occasion as a letter of testimony provided to him by the imperial court attest (see fig. I)36.
FIG. I. Testimony of Emperor Haile-Sellassie Secretary Concerning thereputation of Shaykh Sal¯im Ba¯ Zar’a
29The letter which was written by Tädäsä Mäšäša, the Emperor Secretary, attests the service of Sheik Salīm Bā Zar’a as follow:
“Firəmayenə käzihə bätač ə yäsafeku ’äne Tädäsä Mäšäša bəzu gəze’ äšehə saləmə bazaar zänədə yägərəmawi nəgusä nägäsətə qädämawi häyəläsəlasenənə gänəzäbə ’ädärä ’äsəqäməč ə näbärə yəhənənumə gänəzäbə ’ayätäsasəbənə bätekəkəlu’ äsəräkəbəwuñalə səläzihə yätämänu säwu mähonač äwunə lämämäsəkärə yehənənə wäräqätə sätəč ač walähu.”
“I the undersigned, Tädäsä Mäšäša, have on many occasion entrusted the money of the Kings of Kings, Emperor Haile-Seallasie I to Sheikh Salim Ba Zara. He has returned the money after we have mutually considered the situation. In order to bear witness that he is a trustworthy person I have issued with the present testimony the following paper.”
- 37 Certificate for the fourth Honorary Medallion of Ethiopia Awarded to Shaykh Salīm Bā Zar’a. (The or (...)
30Salīm Bā Zar’a was also given the fourth honorary medal of Ethiopia from the Emperor Haile-Selassie five years after the Emperor coronation (see fig. II)37.
FIG. II. Award Certificate of Shaykh Salīm Bā Zar’a
- 38 Informant: Rukiya Bā Zar’a (Addis Ababa, August 6, 2007). Rukiya is the grand daughter of ‘Abd al-R (...)
31Apart from Salīm another brother of Shaykh Sa’īd Ahmad Bā Zar’a, Abd al-Kāder Bā Zar’a, was also given the fourth honorary medal for his outstanding trade activity and his loyalty to the country38.
- 39 Informant: Ali and Ahmed Bā Hajrī (Addis Ababa, September 6, 2007).
32The Bā Zar’a family, however, was not the only prominent Yemeni family. Beside Shaykh Sa’īd Ahmad Bā Zar’a, another important name in this period is Bā Hajrī. Like the Bā Zar’a family and most Hadrami Yemenis that we find in Addis Ababa Bā Hajrī’s original home was in Wādī Du’’ān in Hadramout. According to his sons who are still running his business in Addis Ababa he arrived in the fist part of the 20th century to improve his living. To come to Ethiopia he first moved to the port of Mukalla and then onwards to Aden. From there, Bā Hajrī moved to Massawa using the small boats operating in the area. Before moving to Addis Ababa he settled in the city of Asmara which at the time was part of the Italian colony in East Africa. Once he got himself to Addis Ababa Bā Hajrī engaged himself in the buying and selling of hide and skin. Latter on, he switched his business to the export of oil seed, pulses and paper. The commodities were first exported to Aden where he had an Indian business partner. Latter on, Bā Hajrī managed to export oil seeds and pulses to Belgium, Germany, Holland, France and United States of America39.
- 40 Antonin Bess was a financial magnet who was operating mainly by basing his company in the port of A (...)
33In the first part of the 20th century another successful Yemeni migrant was Muhammad Yūsuf Bā Najī. Like the Bā Zar’a and Bā Hajrī, Muhammad Yūsuf Bā Najī came from Wādī Du’’ān in Hadramout. According to his family who are now residing in Addis Ababa, he arrived to improve his economic situation. The family does not specifically remember the port that he came through or the inland routes that he has followed in order to reach Addis Ababa. They however remember that Muhammad Yūsuf Bā Najī was sponsored and helped by Shaykh Sa’īd Ahmad Bā Zar’a, a connection which eventually resulted in the formation of marriage alliance between the two family. In Addis Ababa, Shaykh Sa’īd Ahmad Bā Zar’a managed to find him a job in the company of Antonin Bess40. In 1940, after working as a secretary in the Bess Company, Muhammad Yūsuf Bā Najī managed to open his own modest hide and skin business.
- 41 This information apart from oral testimony of the family and was corroborated by the various trade (...)
- 42 Informant: Salah Ba Naji (Addis Ababa, July 10, 2007).
- 43 Last will of Muhammad Yūsuf Bā Najī, typescript, Addis Ababa, July 16, 1971.
- 44 Informant: Salah Bā Naji (Addis Ababa, July 10, 2007).
34When his business developed, he bought a vast tract of land and started operating his business in what is now referred as Täkəlähäyəmanotə area. Muhammad Yūsuf Bā Najī was mainly a supplier of hide and skin to expatriate hide exporting companies as well as shoe factories which were owned by Greeks and Frenchmen. In addition to his hide and skin business Muhammad Yūsuf Bā Najī also sold cereals, tea leafs and incense for the local market41. As a result of his commercial activities, Muhammad Yūsuf Bā Najī was able to build eighty three houses in Addis Ababa42. He also held property in the towns of Šäno and Bišofətu as well as in his original home town Wādī Du’’ān43. In Aden Yūsuf Bā Najī was also able to build three buildings and one shop. In the first part of the 20th century Muhammad Yūsuf Bā Najī was one of the richest men in Addis Ababa. He was privileged and looked upon as the representative of the Arabs by Emperor Haile-Sellassie44.
- 45 Informant: ‘Abd al-Rahmān al-Habshī (Addis Ababa, October 1, 2007).
35Along with the Ba Naji, Bā Zar’a and Bā Hajrī another prominent personality was ‘Abd al-Rahmān al-Habshī. Also from the province of Wādī Du’’ān in Hadramout, ‘Abd al-Rahmān al-Habshī settled first in Säno province of Ethiopia. In Säno he started to operate a small shop and then switched to the supply of grain to the market of Addis Ababa. Later on, Abd al-Rahmān moved to Addis Ababa and seeing that the export of coffee was more profitable than supplying grain he started to export coffee to Aden. He also became engaged in selling coffee to the local market, which enabled him to earn a good reputation in Addis Ababa. Like the Bā Najī they were one of the richest families in the city and were able to have the largest coffee storing magazine in the capital45.
- 46 Informant: Ahmed Hassen Shaykh Ahmad Sālih al-Zāhirī, grand son of Shaykh Ahmad Sālih al-Zāhirī (Ad (...)
36During of the first part of the 20th century the other important and well connected Yemeni was Shaykh Ahmad Sālih al-Zāhirī. Shaykh Ahmad Sālih al-Zāhirī came to Ethiopia in the first part of the 20th century from the town of Redea in northern Yemen. Shaykh Ahmad Sālih al-Zāhirī was a very important personality not only in Ethiopia but throughout the region. He was engaged in the recruiting of laborers from Yemen to Ethiopia for the railway company for work on the line from Djibouti to Addis Ababa. His involvement with the railway dates from the initial period of construction when he supplied labor that he had recruited from Yemen. Later on when the line reached Addis Ababa and the train started to operate, Shaykh Ahmad Sālih al-Zāhirī was able to obtain contracts for loading and offloading cargo in the railway stations from the body that was administering the railway line. Shaykh Ahmad Sālih al-Zāhirī also supplied men for loading and offloading goods for ships that were docking in Djibouti. In addition to this, Shaykh Ahmad Sālih al-Zāhirī was also engaged in transporting imported goods from the railway station to the warehouses of the traders. In the early days, he did this using mule, donkeys and camels. During the post-Italian period, Shaykh Ahmad Sālih al-Zāhirī substituted the pack animal with trucks. For the purpose, he is said to have bought forty trucks that were left behind by the Italians46.
- 47 The British and French colonial powers considered the Yemenis as being very hard worker and preferr (...)
37Although there were other small Yemeni labor recruiters who were importing labor to Ethiopia and to Addis Ababa, Shaykh Ahmad Sālih alZāhirī monopolized the business of cargo loading and offloading cargo for a long period. In line with the attitude of the French and other colonial powers toward Yemeni laborers47, Shaykh Ahmad Sālih al-Zāhirī’s men were regarded as being hard workers and efficient in their activity. The traffic manager of the Franco-Ethiopian railway during the British administration, Major Thomson, and the General Manager of the railway line, Lieutenant Colonel Collier, commented the contribution of Shaykh Ahmad Sālih al-Zāhirī in these terms:
- 48 Major Brougthon Thompson and Lutenant Collier. Letter of Recommendation to Shaykh Ahmad Sālih al-Zā (...)
38“Shaykh Ahmad Sālih al-Zāhirī has been the contractor to this administration for the loading and off loading of all merchandise at the Addis Ababa railway station throughout the entire period of this administration, i.e. from June 1941 to July 1946. This Administration whishes to place on record that Shaykh Ahmad Sālih al-Zāhirī and his staff and workers have given us entire and complete satisfaction and have at all time worked cheerfully and tirelessly and have in no small measure contributed to the rapid turnaround of wagons, which is so vital to the efficient operation of a railway”48.
- 49 Informant: Mustafā (Addis Ababa, December 12, 2007).
39The work force under Shaykh Ahmad Sālih al-Zāhirī was mainly recruited from his own native area. The workers were people who were recruited actively but also individuals who just came and got employed under him as a result of being a Yemeni or coming from the same area. In Addis Ababa, Shaykh Ahmad Sālih al-Zāhirī’s men stayed in the neighborhood called Sengatera area as it was close to the main railway station. Their work was carried out in gangs composed of twenty up to thirty people. For his services, Shaykh Ahmad Sālih al-Zāhirī charged the importing and exporting merchant/companies a commission49.
- 50 Letter of contract between Shaykh Ahmad Sālih al-Zāhirī and Merchants of Addis Ababa, typescript, J (...)
40Shaykh Ahmad Sālih al-Zāhirī provided his service to all the merchants residing in Addis Ababa, including the important Yemeni traders I have previously mentioned. As Shaykh Ahmad Sālih al-Zāhirī was not actually an employee of the railway company but an independent subcontractor, all traders residing in Addis Ababa who wanted to send goods abroad were supposed to come together and sign a service with him50. Shaykh Ahmad Sālih al-Zāhirī and his many gangs of workers, therefore, were faced with the need to satisfy two masters. As Thomson mentioned, the swift movement of goods and the general rail system traffic was dependent on them. This responsibility was indeed great given the single-track system of the railway line. On the other hand, Shaykh Ahmad Sālih al-Zāhirī and his men had to take the responsibility of carefully loading the exported and imported goods and supervise their destination.
- 51 Letter of contract between Shaykh Ahmad Sālih al-Zāhirī and Merchants of Addis Ababa, typescript, J (...)
41Shaykh Ahmad Sālih al-Zāhirī and the Yemeni laborers under him seem to have carried out this task swiftly. They were also able to win the confidence of the entire merchant community in Addis Ababa, renewing their agreements with them every five years. An enlightening document in this regard is a contractual agreement between him and Addis Ababa traders. The document, which is signed by more than twenty merchants, tells us that Shaykh Ahmad Sālih al-Zāhirī had entered into a contractual agreement with leading French capital based companies that were dominating the trade in Ethiopia. Among these, Shaykh Ahmad Sālih al-Zāhirī had signed an agreement with the Aden based Antonin Bess, who was dominant in the regional economy51. The contractual agreement of Shaykh Ahmad Sālih al-Zāhirī is remarkable given the enormous importance of Antonin Bess Company in the Ethiopian economy. Antonin Bess was the sole agent of Shell in the region and one of the financiers of the railway line and dominated 75% of the Ethiopian region external trade (Killion 1985: 48).
- 52 Letter of contract between Shaykh Ahmad Sālih al-Zāhirī and Merchants of Addis Ababa, typescript, J (...)
42Besides Bess, Shaykh Ahmad Sālih al-Zāhirī also engaged with the Aden based, British backed Arabian Trading Company. Shaykh Ahmad Sālih al-Zāhirī contractual agreement was also extended to companies that were not financially backed by the British or French states. In this regard Shaykh Ahmad Sālih al-Zāhirī had contracts with the leading Yemeni traders including, the Ba Zara, T. Sherian, al-Habshī, Bā Ubad. His involvement also included other expatriate companies that were owned by Jewish, Armenians, Greeks, Indians and Italians. From this group Ahmed was able to get a contract with such leading companies as Gelattely Hankey and George Kaloyopulos. During the Imperial period, fifty export and import firms had signed agreements with Shaykh Ahmad Sālih al-Zāhirī. Stating the terms and condition of the contracts the merchants maintained that the agreement would last for a five year period and was given due to the satisfactory undertaking of Shaykh Ahmad Sālih al-Zāhirī and his Yemeni laborers52.
- 53 Informant: Ahmed Hasesn Shaykh Ahmad Sālih al-Zāhirī (Addis Ababa, December 11, 2007). The supplyin (...)
43Shaykh Ahmad Sālih al-Zāhirī labor brokerage business, however, was not limited to the east African ports and to Addis Ababa. He also exported Yemeni and Somali sea men to the French port of Marseille as early as the 1920s. The seamen Shaykh Ahmad Sālih al-Zāhirī exported were employed by the Messageries Maritimes, the French based company founded in 185153. Shaykh Ahmad Sālih al-Zāhirī‘s business undertakings were facilitated by the French policy of encouraging Yemenis to be linked with France so that they could establish a presence in Yemen. Shaykh Ahmad Sālih al-Zāhirī seems to have exploited and effectively used this “colonial will” by becoming a French citizen, a fact, which according to his identity card, continued well into the 1940s.
- 54 During Emperor Haile-Selassie rise to power there were a number of foreign merchants in Addis Ababa (...)
- 55 Merab (1922: 492) tells us that the 1934 mission was composed of Shaykh Ahmad Sālih al-Zāhirī, Ato (...)
- 56 Shaykh Ahmad Sālih al-Zāhirī to Emperor Haile-Sellassie, Typescript, November 10, 1959, Addis Ababa (...)
44Shaykh Ahmad Sālih al-Zāhirī however was not only a trader but also like Shaykh Sa’īd Ahmad Bā Zar’a a personality connected to the royal courts of Ethiopia. In fact he was one of the Yemenis who were highly connected to the imperial court of Ethiopia especially that of Emperor Haile-Sellassie. Like the Bā Zar’a family, Shaykh Ahmad Sālih al-Zāhirī acted as a main link between the Yemeni community and the imperial court. He was also one of the merchant capitalist who were instrumental in consolidating Emperor Haile-Sellassie rise to power54. Shaykh Ahmad Sālih al-Zāhirī also acted as a diplomatic agent for Emperor Haile-Sellassie in Arab countries. He especially served as an intermediary between Emperor Haile-Sellassie and the ruler of Yemen. Shaykh Ahmad Sālih al-Zāhirī was also the diplomatic envoy of Emperor Haile-Sellassie when war was about to break out between Yemen and Saudi Arabia because of a border conflict between the two countries. In the diplomatic field he was also part of the two diplomatic missions that was sent in 1933 and 1934 by Emperor Haile-Sellassie to Yemen55. Shaykh Ahmad Sālih al-Zāhirī in particular played a big role when the Fascist Italian government invaded the country56. Oral history tells us that Shaykh Ahmad Sālih al-Zāhirī was one of the people who planned the successful escape of the Emperor from Addis Ababa to Djibouti by train.
- 57 Shaykh Ahmad Sālih al-Zāhirī to Emperor Haile-Sellassie, Typescript, November 10, 1959, Addis Ababa
45During the war with the Italians, according to a letter he himself wrote to Emperor Haile-Sellassie, Shaykh Ahmad Sālih al-Zāhirī was involved in transporting arms and explosives by camel from East African port towns to Ethiopian soldiers. He was also able to import arms to the Ethiopian government from Yemen by going there and negotiating with the Yemeni rulers. This act was especially crucial for the patriotic movement against the colonial Italian government, as arms was not allowed to be imported to Ethiopia as a result of an arm embargo that was sanctioned by the League of Nations on both Italy and Ethiopia. In his letter to the Emperor, Ahmed tells us that he was able to move beyond this embargo through negotiations that he had with the Yemenis ruler. Through these negotiations, the Yemen government allowed airplanes to come and transport arms to the Ethiopian patriots. In addition to this, during the Italian occupation he also served as a representative of Emperor Haile-Sellassie in the Middle East, where he also lobbied against the Italian occupation by going to different Arab countries as well through extensive communication57.
- 58 According to informants as well as a personal communication with Dr Shelagh Weir at the School of O (...)
46An illustrating document, which shows the position of Shaykh Ahmad Sālih al-Zāhirī, his role and connections, consists of two communiqués bearing the seal of Imam Yahya regime and forwarded to him by King Ahmed bin Hamid Al Nasir58. From the two communiqués, the first one was directly addressed to Ahmed himself following a trip that he made to Europe for medical reasons (see fig. III).
FIG. III. Letter of King Ahmed bin Hamid Al-Nasir to Shaykh Ahmad Sa¯ lih al-Zāhirī
- 59 King Ahmed bin Hamid Al-Nasir to Shaykh Ahmad Sālih al-Zāhirī, 25 Safir, 1365. (Original document i (...)
- 60 King Ahmed bin Hamid Al-Nasir to Emperor Haile-Sellassie. Al Nasir Royal Court, Jumadi al Awal, 136 (...)
47The letter, after a formal greeting, whishes Shaykh Ahmad Sālih al-Zāhirī a safe return to Ethiopia. It also asks Shaykh Ahmad Sālih al-Zāhirī to transmit the King’s greeting to Emperor Haile-Sellassie59. On the other hand, the second letter directly addressed to Emperor Haile-Sellassie describes the standing of Ahmed Salah in Yemen and request the Emperor to facilitate the duties of Shaykh Ahmad Sālih al-Zāhirī (see fig. IV)60.
FIG. IV. Letter of King Ahmed bin Hamid Al-Nasir to Emperor Haile-Sellassie
- 61 Ministry of War to Shaykh Ahmad Sālih al-Zāhirī. Typescript, letter number 3/2564, Addis Ababa, Feb (...)
48In addition to these documents, Shaykh Ahmad Sālih al-Zāhirī high standing was also attested by a letter of appreciation that was issued for him by the Ethiopian Ministry of War. The letter briefly thanks Shaykh Ahmad Sālih al-Zāhirī for the service that he has given to the department of Arms Depot and Property61.
49In the 19th and early 20th century Addis Ababa Yemenis were not only traders, laborer or brokers in the system of thing. They were also involved in the religious affair of Addis Ababa Muslim community. Apart from the major trading families that we have seen so far, Addis Ababa also saw the presence of the Sāda family, descendents of the Prophet Muhammad, who were engaged in the propagation of Islam. Indeed the coming of the Sāda in to Addis Ababa was not a new phenomenon and was a logical extension of the migration of Sāda from Yemen to East African port town which were directly connected to Addis Ababa. For example Richard Burton (1856: 33) traveling in the middle of the 19th century tells us that the one time governor of the port of Zeyla, whom he has met personally during his time of stay, was a Sayyid by the name of Sayyid Muhammad al-Bār.
- 62 Informant: Mustafa¯ (Addis Ababa, November 4, 2007).
50Although a complete list of family name is hard to come by, the Hadrami Sayyids who migrated and established themselves in Addis Ababa include families like al-Bār, al-Segaf, al-Habshī and al-Farege62. Among the Sayyids in Addis Ababa, the most popular and venerated was Sayyid ‘Abdallāh al-Bār. He originally came from Wadi Du’’ān in Hadramout in the first decade of the 20th century. Tāha al-Bār who is his great grandson informed me that in Wadi Du’’ān Sayyid ‘Abdallāh al-Bār used to own a mosque. In the first part of the 20th century Sayyid ‘Abdallāh al-Bār came directly to Addis Ababa for unknown reasons. In Addis Ababa Sayyid ‘Abdallāh al-Bār married the daughter (her name is Zeyneba) of a Turkish man, Zekeria Hussein, who was one of the tailor of Emperor Menelik II, a connection which gave him an easy access to the ruling class of Ethiopia.
- 63 Shaykh Qätəbäri has given Seyid Abdella land and other properties in the Gurage area. This property (...)
- 64 Information regarding Sayyid ‘Abdallāh al-Bār was provided by his grandson Sayyid Tāha al-Bār (Addi (...)
51In Ethiopia Sayyid ‘Abdallāh al-Bār was venerated by local people as a result of his decent. He earned respect among other from Shaykh Qätəbäri who was the leading religious personality among the Gurage ethnic group63. Sayyid ‘Abdallāh al-Bār was the first Imām of the second mosque to be built in the city i.e al-Nur Mosque. His family members and other informants credit him for playing a leading role during the construction of the mosque which was achieved through the financial contribution of Yemeni Arabs who were residing in Addis Ababa64.
- 65 Hussein (1999) quoting a Bachelor of Art essay asserts that the land for the construction of the mo (...)
- 66 Informant: Sayyid Tāha al-Bār (Addis Ababa, July 5, 2006).
52The story told in this regard affirms that the land where the mosque was built was granted to Zekeria Hussein by Emperor Menelik II65. The construction of the mosque started after his death during the reign Emperor Haile-Sellassie but there were difficulties finishing it and construction stopped at one time due to the opposition of Orthodox Christian priest who were influential within the Ethiopian state system. When things got rough, Sayyid ‘Abdallāh al-Bār is said to have gone directly to Emperor Haile-Sellassie to persuade him to allow the Muslim community to have a mosque where they could pray. After his death his sons Mustafā ‘Abdallāh al-Bār, Abdo ‘Abdallāh al-Bār, Umar ‘Abdallāh al-Bār and Ahmed ‘Abdallāh al-Bār also involved themselves in the mosque. For a number of years they were the only one who acted as the Imām during the terawi saulat in the month of Ramadān66.
- 67 The only exception in Ethiopia historiography of foreigners who does not excessively rely on wester (...)
54The above story of Yemenis in the first part of the 20th century has a bearing on the way Arabs and other foreign migrants to Ethiopia have been studied. Although the study of foreigners in Ethiopian studies is very scant, available studies have concentrated only on foreigners from the western part of the globe. The accounts given focus mainly on the links that Armenians, Greeks, British and Swedes had with Ethiopian rulers (see for example, Pankhurst 1966, Baheru 2005: 97-98). Although taking in to account and describing the relations of these groups is essential it has however been achieved at the cost of ignoring the history of Arabs and the connection that Arab communities had with Ethiopian rulers. Arabs, in almost all scholarship that relate to foreigners have been described as small shop owners who were in no way near to the Emperors of Ethiopia (see for example, Pankhurst 1968: 448). One reason for this, I believe, has been the reliance of scholars on western sources particularly accounts of western travelers, who, given their backgrounds, might not have been in touch with Arabs residing in the capital67. One way of redressing this problem I believe is to look into Arabic sources which have taken into account the history of Arab communities in modern period. Given the rarity of this option for the modern period, collecting family histories from Arabs living in present day Ethiopia and consulting documents which are held by them, hold the key in redressing the imbalance that is created not due to the absence of historical sources but due to methodological shortcomings. This article by following an unconventional or marginal historical/anthropological methodology has been able to show the experience of the Arab families in Addis Ababa as well as their linkages to the royal courts. Given the article limited scope, however, it is my whish that more historical research based on the collection of family histories and the gathering of family documents need to be undertaken to further increase our knowledge not only of Arabs but other non European groups.